I finished my entry for the Chicago Public Library’s latest installment of One Book Many Interpretations. The exhibit will open sometime in August, but work needed to be in by the middle of June. I’m traveling to Maine and Switzerland during most of June so I needed to get this done by the end of May at the latest.
We were given a list of ten books to rank in order of preference. I got my fifth or sixth choice, Toni Morrison’s A Mercy. When working on a project with a very specific format and theme, I often need to percolate with the idea until something forms. I read the book a couple of times, looked at various study guides, and decided I wanted to do something with paste papers. It was then that all the musings in my brain began to come together.
As I read A MERCY, each of the character’s voices became distinct and unique. I watched them all evolve in their servitude to the Vaarks, each other and themselves. Florens mother’s final words in the last chapter summarized many of the underlying themes of slavery and how Morrison chose to separate that from race.
In the dust where my heart will remain each night and every day until you understand what I know and long to tell you: to be given dominion over another is a hard thing; to wrest dominion over another is a wrong thing; to give dominion of yourself to another is a wicked thing.
These words stayed with me for a long time as I examined who had dominion over each character and how they got that dominion.
To represent this, I chose to unbound a 2008 hard cover edition and guard the pages together to form new signatures, grouping them by chapter/character. Each character’s chapter is painted with pigmented paste in a different color. Each of the characters is described by an unnamed narrator, is it Florens? Her mother? It’s never revealed. Florens, who appears in every other chapter in first person, shares the same color as the box, a mix of blues, yellows, greens, and golds. These colors juxtapose her need to walk between desire for “shoes of a loose woman” and boots of the master who owned her; and all the expectations that each of those roles contain. The other character’s colors isolate them as individuals, or orphans as all of them are, even if it was by choice.
Each of these characters is united to the other in my binding with a single chain crochet stitch, a direct comment on their enslavement, regardless of race. The book itself moves with its own life, in spite of the chain, and this is what each character attempts to do in A MERCY: to move and live, to find one’s way through and within the servitude, regardless of race.
Here are a few more images of the final piece.